Friday, September 30, 2011

Don't Abuse The Retailers

Okay, I work in a bookstore, and have for fourteen years now. Not the same location all these years, but the same company. If you've ever worked in retail or in the service industry, you're aware that there are a number of behaviors that get on the nerves of the customer service person. We (customer service folks) all understand these general items, and we all deal with them in our own ways.

The book selling world, like every other specialty retail industry, has its own set of gripes, though. Lucky for me, the vast majority of my time with my employer has been spent as a Receiving Manager, so I don't deal with the public on a regular basis. I have “been there, done that”, though, and I still am occasionally called on to help out on the sales floor, so I've had my share of … “experiences”. Plus, the Receiving room seems to be the default “venting zone”, where booksellers go directly after a stressful experience, to vent their frustration in tones and vocabulary that would get them in trouble elsewhere. So, I get to keep abreast of what's going on in the world of bookseller abuse.

Here, then, in no particular order, are some common bookseller gripes. Please take heed, because you may very well be guilty of some of them yourself.

Where's your nonfiction section?

Okay, I understand that in Elementary school we were taught that the school library was divided into “Fiction” and “Nonfiction”. You're not in third grade anymore, Toto. When we're asked this question, our deepest desire is to point to the quarter of the store that houses Fiction and its sub-genres, and say “You see that corner? It's everything else”. Seriously – what do you expect to find in this nonexistent “Nonfiction Section”? Books on Astronomy? Then we can direct you to our Science section. Web Design? You need Computers. Home Improvement? Art? Collecting? Pets? These all have their own sections. Just tell us what you're looking for and we'll get you there a lot quicker. Without wanting to plunge a pen into your eye or ours.

My kid needs this book tomorrow.

Seriously? Little Johnny or Susie has had. All. Freaking. Summer. To read this book. Or maybe it's just half the semester. Whatever. You and I both know damn well that his/her teacher didn't just assign the book today with a deadline of having it tomorrow. Your child's procrastination isn't our fault. We're out of the damn book because all of Johnny's classmates already came in and bought or ordered their copies. Don't get mad at us because the only copy available is in a warehouse in Tennessee. You should've been here last week. Or, you know – at the beginning of the summer.

How could you be out? Everyone is buying it.

I know, I know. Your teacher told you the only stupid question is the one you don't ask. She was wrong. This is a stupid question. Yes, everyone is buying it. That would be exactly why we're out of it, you brain trust. Yet, this is a direct quote from a customer several years ago. Pardon me, while I sigh and slap my forehead....

I don't know the title. Or the author. But it was about a man. And a woman.

This ranks right up there with saying “Oh, you're from Random City? My friend Joe is from there, too. Do you know him?” Seriously, folks, a highly vague description, without even any non-generic plot points to distinguish the book? And we're supposed to just reach our magic hands right into your little subconscious, dig around and find that literary gem you're so intrigued by that every detail has escaped you? Puh-lease.

Oh! It was a bestseller five years ago.

Let me guess: It was also featured on Oprah, right? Like approximately five thousand other books. By the way, there are hundreds of “bestseller lists”. There are two that matter to us. The New York Times Bestseller list, and our own, which is populated by books that sold the best in our stores. Just because a Sci Fi fan magazine has its own bestseller list doesn't mean anyone else outside their own readership pays any attention to it.

And I'm sure it had a blue cover. Does that help?

Not even a little. Please stop; you're giving me an aneurism now.

Ugh! It's cheaper online, you know.

In other words, you only came in here to use our air conditioning, browse through and dogear, rip, and tear the covers on our hardcovers that you “browsed”, leave a stack of picked-through newspapers which are as hard to reassemble as road maps, spill coffee on the carpet, and leave magazines in our restrooms. Yes, those magazines. We know all about that, you're not fooling anyone...

Gee, too bad Amazon doesn't have to pick up the electricity, monthly professional carpet cleaning, and daily janitorial bills, too.

Do you have a copier?

What's the word I'm looking for, here? Oh, yeah: plagiarism. It's a crime. If you don't know what it means, Google it.

***Correction*** It was pointed out to me in the comments section that I misused the word "plagiarism". I absolutely hate when I do things like this. It's not plagiarism, it's copyright infringement, but it's still a crime.

You only sell liberal (or conservative) books, and hide all the others, because of your company's bias.

Sure. That's exactly right. That political book that's a runaway bestseller? Nope, we don't want any of those sales dollars. You know, because we're not a business or anything. I mean, it's not like we're here to make money, ya know? Hey, Mr Beck fan, while you're bitching about how all the books on the display are by liberal authors, I want you to stop and think about three months ago, when it was all conservative authors. Why didn't you accuse us of bias then? There are two factors at work here:
  1. Displays tend to have a theme. You don't usually see books about Pug puppies and 1970s Muscle Cars on the same table, right? Or books on Hinduism and Christianity? There's a reason for that. They don't go together.
  2. For some reason, I don't know if it's intentional on the part of the publisher, coincidence or divine intervention, but there seems to be a pattern that a bunch of books by conservatives will come out, then a few months later, a bunch of liberal books will be published within a couple weeks of each other.

This is not us plotting against you. This is a combination of natural rhythms in the publishing world and good merchandising.

Phone customers who have us look for a bunch of books, then don't put them on hold.

So, you thought ahead enough to call and make sure we had each one of the items in your long list of books? Great! I just spent half an hour running back and forth between the phone and five different sections of the store, finding and retrieving the books you seem to be interested in. There's only one copy of each of them, and I have them all stacked together right here. What? You don't want me to put them on hold for you? But – there's only one copy of each. We might sell it before you come in, otherwise. What? You were just curious as to whether we have them? So.... I just wasted half an hour and no small amount of aggravation, only to have to spend another half hour re-shelving them? Knowing the whole time that you will indeed come in for at least one of them. Five minutes after we sell it to someone else.

Your website said you have it”.

Websites are great. I'm glad you did a little research before you came in. However, there's no way that website can know if we have it right this minute. I'm pretty sure there's no software that can update stuff that quick. There might be, but if there is, I'm sure it's so expensive the only people who can afford it are NSA. Use the website to see if it's something we normally carry. Then call or stop by to see if it's in. But if you call, please don't be like the person in the last item.

The teacher said you have it.

My apologies to teachers if you're innocent of this, but seriously, teachers are one of our biggest frustrations. If you're going to assign Of Mice And Men to 300 of your students to read this semester, don't just call us and ask if we carry the title and then say thanks and hang up when we say yes. Geez, it's Steinbeck; of course we carry it. Probably about three copies under normal conditions. We would so love it if you let us know that you're a teacher in a local school and that you'd like to send your students to us. With the proper notice, we can have those 300 books here and waiting for those kids.

The author's website said it comes out today.

Sorry, but the author's webmaster and publisher don't always see eye to eye on availability dates. Sometimes that's a shipping date. Sometimes it's an optimistic projected date. Sometimes it's a WAG (Wild Ass Guess). Sometimes, it's an outright lie, intended to keep you salivating for the next sequel, hoping you'll be so happy to finally have it that you won't notice how formulaic and boring the series has become due to the author's ego- and alcohol- induced boredom with the whole thing.

You don't have it? No, I don't want to order it from you; I'll just order it through Amazon.

Then why didn't you do that to start with? Seriously. See the earlier item about things being cheaper online. They're cheaper for a reason: no customer service, no atmosphere, no flipping through the actual book, coffee in hand, before making that final purchasing decision.

Parents who watch their kid throw books/merch on floor and don't correct or clean up after said kid.
We. Are. Not. A. Daycare. Seriously. We've seen you drop your kids off in the Children's Department and disappear elsewhere in the store for an hour. Hell, at one store I worked in, we had a problem with parents telling their children to wait at our store after they got off the school bus until Mom got out of work. And then there are the parents who literally watch their kids throw books on the floor, pull merchandise off the shelf, open packages, making most of this stuff unsellable. Guess what? Some of it is even non-returnable for us, meaning we can't return it to the vendor for a refund when you don't buy what your kid destroyed. We have to write it off as a loss. So, when the price of that Sydney Sheldon hardback goes up? You and your negligent “parenting” directly contributed.

Rudeness to bookseller, just because he/she is a captive audience who isn't allowed to fight back from the verbal attack.

Okay, this one isn't bookseller specific. It applies to every retail, food service, beverage service, and even adult oriented industry worker out there. Yes, they are there to provide you a service. Yes, they are very limited in what they can say back to you. Yes, they have to stand there and take it to protect their livelihood. Which means if you decide to lay into a service worker just because you can, you are a total and complete asshole and a bully. And I hope somebody runs over you in the parking lot, dickhead.

There. Got that off my chest. For now, anyway....


  1. "Do you have a copier?

    What's the word I'm looking for, here? Oh, yeah: plagiarism. It's a crime. If you don't know what it means, Google it."

    Actually, Worth, it is -not- plagiarism. Plagiarism is taking someone else's work and calling it your own.

    Copying from a book is called "copyright infringement."

    Sorry. :-P

  2. Well done! Is there no safe customer service place anymore. We're all doomed to be bitter I guess. Funny though, when I worked at Blockbuster I was actually excellent at figuring out movies from vague descriptions.

  3. Dammit. I hate when I mess up a simple word like "plagiarism". You are indeed correct, Mark. I made a notation in the text.

  4. I think you may be right, Larry. Thanks for reading.

  5. Wait...we weren't supposed to fight back when verbally attacked...whoops!

  6. Hmmm...I always wondered why you disappeared from the store so quickly...